Saturday, April 9, 2016

And The Phillies’ Stellar Start Continues…

GAME RECAP: Mets Beat Phillies 7-2

A literal banner day for the Mets -- they raised their 2015 National League pennant before the game -- turned into a subdued 7-2 win over the Phillies on Friday when starting pitcher Jacob deGrom left due to a right lat injury. The afternoon was no more enjoyable for the Phillies, who fell to 0-4 for the first time in a decade. Before departing as a medical precaution, deGrom contributed six effective innings despite reduced velocity. The Mets, in turn, gave him a lead on sixth-inning RBI hits from Neil Walker and Michael Conforto against Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff. Walker singled home another run an inning later, and Conforto singled home two more. "It's a good start," Mets third baseman David Wright said. "Hopefully there's a lot more to come." The Mets' seventh-inning rally constituted a third bullpen meltdown in four games for the Phillies, whose 12.66 relief ERA ranks last in baseball. "We just need to get something going," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "I need to keep everybody positive and not get down on themselves. Everybody is trying so hard."

  • Eickhoff pitched relatively well, but the Phillies' bullpen cannot stop the bleeding. After Dalier Hinojosa and Daniel Stumpf worked out of a jam in the sixth, left-hander James Russell allowed four runs in the seventh to put the game out of reach. The Phillies' bullpen has allowed 15 earned runs in 10 2/3 innings this season. "We're going to continue to try to find out," said Mackanin, asked if he has the personnel in the bullpen to pitch effectively.
  • There are many reasons the Phillies are 0-4, but one of them is the offense. They have scored more than two runs just once in four games. They are hitting .120 (3-for-25) with runners in scoring position, and they did themselves no favors Friday when Cesar Hernandez forgot the infield fly rule, turning a potential rally into an inning-ending double play in the eighth. "That was unacceptable," Mackanin said. "You can't excuse that. He should know better. He's an infielder."
  • "You shouldn't have to. In high school you should know that." -- Mackanin, on if the infield fly rule is taught during Spring Training.
  • Phillies outfielders are hitting a combined .116 (5-for-43) with one double, one home run and two RBIs, which is why Mackanin told Darin Ruf to begin taking fly balls in left field during batting practice. The Phillies pulled the plug on Ruf as an outfielder in Spring Training. "Although it's not according to plan, we need some bats with some power," Mackanin said. "I don't think that was even a thought," Ruf said of working out in left. "Now it is."

Phillies fans get their first look at hard-throwing right-hander Vincent Velasquez -- the key piece of the Ken Giles trade with Houston -- in Saturday night's game against the Mets at Citi Field. Velasquez threw the ball well in the spring, earning the No. 5 job in the rotation over left-hander Adam Morgan.


Wrong Kind Of Hit – Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco had his left elbow wrapped up Friday morning at Citi Field. But at least he had a bat in his hands and was headed to the batting cage to hit. "I'm sore," Franco said. "But I'll be fine." Franco got hit with a 92-mph fastball just below the elbow in the ninth inning Thursday afternoon against the Reds at Great American Ball Park. He was not in the Phillies' lineup for Friday's game against the Mets, but Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Franco was available to pinch-hit and is expected to be in the lineup Saturday. "It's not a big deal," Mackanin said. That should be a relief for the Phillies, who badly need Franco's bat in the lineup. Franco hit .300 (3-for-10) with one double, one home run, two RBIs, two walks and two strikeouts in three games against the Reds this week. Andres Blanco started at third base Friday. He hit fifth.

A Solid Start – All things considered, the Phillies' rotation has been the team's lone bright spot this season. Right-hander Jerad Eickhoff allowed three runs (two earned) in five-plus innings Friday afternoon in a 7-2 loss to the Mets at Citi Field. "He doesn't look as sharp as I've seen him," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "But he still only gave up two earned runs, which is fine." Following a spring that began with a broken right thumb, Eickhoff pitched better than perhaps expected. The Phillies will take it. Their starters have a 3.74 ERA in four games, but because of a poor bullpen and a struggling offense, the team is 0-4 for the first time since 2006. The Phillies need Vince Velasquez to pitch well Saturday night to avoid their first 0-5 start since 1934. Eickhoff struggled early, throwing 50 pitches in his first two innings. He hit Michael Conforto with a pitch to start the second and loaded the bases with no outs. Freddy Galvis dropped an easy catch at second on a potential double-play ball, putting runners at first and second. Eickhoff then walked Travis d'Arnaud to load the bases. But Eickhoff battled. He got Jacob deGrom to ground into a fielder's choice as Conforto scored to make it 1-0. But Curtis Granderson popped out and David Wright grounded out to end the inning. Eickhoff threw just 28 pitches over his next three innings, retiring 12 of 13 batters in one stretch. But a double from Lucas Duda, a single from Neil Walker and a Conforto double gave the Mets a 3-1 lead and ended Eickhoff's night. Eickhoff left the game encouraged that he is close to where he was last season, when he had a 2.65 ERA in eight starts as a rookie. "Yeah, I think so," Eickhoff said. "I threw a bullpen [session earlier this week] in Cincinnati. There were some pitches there where it was like, 'OK, that's it, that's where I need to be.' I think I threw some out there today. It's just I couldn't find it more than I'd like to, so it was kind of frustrating. But I'm happy to get through it and be healthy on the backside." The bullpen is not healthy. It allowed four runs in three innings. It has a 12.66 ERA (15 earned runs in 10 2/3 innings). "Our starters have done a really good job up to this point," Mackanin said. "That's what we were trying to go for up to this point. It's been working very well. We're not the best-hitting team in the league, but we're certainly better than what we're showing. We just need to get something going. I need to keep everybody positive and not get down on themselves. Everybody is trying so hard."

That Was Fundamentally Wrong – Manager Pete Mackanin emphasized the fundamentals this spring because he knew the Phillies have little margin for error. But he never expected to need a refresher course on the infield fly rule four games into the season. Cesar Hernandez forgot about the rule Friday, ending a potential rally in the eighth inning of a 7-2 loss to the Mets at Citi Field. The Phillies are 0-4 for the first time since 2006. They need to win Saturday to avoid their first 0-5 start since 1934. "That was unacceptable," Mackanin said. "You can't excuse that. He should know better. He's an infielder." The Phillies had Hernandez on first and Freddy Galvis on second with one out when Odubel Herrera hit a popup in the infield, just to the left of the pitcher's mound. Mets third baseman David Wright moved underneath the ball, but the wind blew it behind him. No matter, the infield fly rule had been called. But Hernandez ran to second the moment the ball hit the ground. Wright threw to Mets first baseman Lucas Duda, who threw to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who tagged Hernandez for the inning-ending double play. "I did not see the umpire call the infield fly," Hernandez said through the Phillies' translator. "I was trying to listen to my first-base coach, but couldn't hear a thing because it was so loud. When the ball hit the ground, I reacted to it. However, there are no excuses. I am an infielder. I know the rules. I take full responsibility for it. It won't happen again." "Freddy didn't move," Mackanin said. "He knew [not to run]." Asked if the Phillies reteach the infield fly rule in Spring Training, Mackanin said, "You shouldn't have to. In high school you should know that." Of course, this is not to say the Phillies would have overcome a five-run deficit, but they need every bit of help they can get. They have scored more than two runs just once in four games this season. They are hitting .120 (3-for-25) with runners in scoring position. The Phillies need offense so badly they just told Darin Ruf to begin to take fly balls in left field during batting practice. The Phillies essentially pulled the plug on Ruf as an outfielder in Spring Training because they said they valued defense over offense in the outfield. But Phillies outfielders are a hitting combined .116 (5-for-43) with one double, one home run and two RBIs. "Although it's not according to plan, we need some bats with some power," Mackanin said. "I don't think that was even a thought," Ruf said. "Now it is."

Minor Talents – Without a doubt, low Class A Greenville had the most talented Minor League club at the end of 2015. Scouts who saw the Red Sox's South Atlantic League affiliate in the second half laughed about how loaded the Drive's roster was. After signing for $31.5 million (and costing Boston a matching penalty for exceeding its international bonus pool) in March, second baseman Yoan Moncada lived up to his "Robinson Cano with more speed" comparisons and hit .310/.415/.500 with 45 steals in his final 56 games. Third baseman Rafael Devers ranked second in the SAL in doubles (38) and total bases (208) as an 18-year-old. Shortstop Javier Guerra flashed Gold Glove potential and slammed 15 homers. While third baseman Michael Chavis and right-hander Michael Kopech had their ups and downs -- Chavis had swing-and-miss issues, Kopech got suspended for 50 games after testing positive for a banned stimulant -- they both showed the upside that made them first-round picks in 2014. Outfielder Andrew Benintendi, the No. 7 overall choice in 2015, arrived in Greenville in August and batted .351/.430/.581 in 19 games. Precocious righty Anderson Espinoza, who draws Pedro Martinez parallels, made a cameo in the final series at age 17. Even with the Red Sox breaking up the gang to start the 2016 season, they've still assembled the most impressive Minor League roster again, this time at high Class A Salem. No club has three players ranked higher on's Top 100 Prospects than Moncada (No. 6), Devers (No. 16) and Benintendi (No. 24). Guerra (No. 57) went to the Padres in the Craig Kimbrel trade in November, but Espinoza (No. 38), Kopech (currently sidelined after breaking his pitching hand in an altercation with a teammate during Spring Training) and Chavis could move up to the Carolina League later in the year. Salem also features several interesting sleepers in right-hander Travis Lakins, middle infielder Mauricio Dubon and first baseman Nick Longhi. After Salem, these are the best prospect rosters in the Minors: 8. Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Phillies): All three of the IronPigs' Top 100 Prospects were acquired via trade last year by the rebuilding Phillies. Right-hander Jake Thompson (No. 54) and outfielder Nick Williams (No. 64) came from the Rangers in July's Cole Hamels deal, while righty Mark Appel (No. 69) -- the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 Draft -- was part of the package the Astros gave up for Ken Giles in December. Catcher Andrew Knapp was one of the Minors' hottest hitters after the All-Star break last year, batting .370/.437/.698 with 11 homers in 42 Double-A games. 9. Double-A Reading Fightin Phils (Phillies): Philadelphia leads all organizations with seven Top 100 Prospects, so it's not surprising that the Phils are the only one with multiple affiliates on this list. J.P. Crawford (No. 4) is an elite shortstop prospect, catcher Jorge Alfaro (No. 95) is another piece from the Hamels trade and outfielder Roman Quinn (No. 98) is one of the fastest players in the Minors. Potential mid-rotation right-hander Ricardo Pinto has two plus pitches in his fastball and changeup.

Home Opener Festivities Scheduled – The Mets celebrated their National League championship Friday afternoon with a lengthy pregame ceremony at Citi Field. The Phillies will have their own festivities Monday at their home opener at Citizens Bank Park. There are a limited number of tickets available at or at the first-base ticket windows at the ballpark. Here are some the highlights of the day's timeline: Noon ET -- Block party begins on Citizens Bank Way. 12:35 p.m. -- Gates open. Fans receive a commemorative cap. 12:43 p.m. -- Phillies take batting practice. 2:13 p.m. -- The Phillies begin their walk into the ballpark from 10th Street, just outside center field. 2:22 p.m. -- The Phillies enter the park. 2:50 p.m. -- Kane Kalas, son of Harry Kalas, sings the national anthem. 2:53 p.m. -- The United States Navy Parachute Team, the Leap Frogs, parachute onto the field delivering the first balls. 3 p.m. -- Philadelphia police officer Jesse Hartnett, 33, throws out a first pitch. Hartnett was shot three times while on duty. President Obama called him a hero in his last State of the Union Address. 3:05 p.m. -- First pitch.
All About Debuts - It's hard to believe but the first victory at Ebbets Field in 1913 was not by the Brookyln Dodgers, that honor belongs to the Phillies. Ted Savage and Frank Torre (Joe's Brothers) made their Phillies debuts on this day in 1962 in a decade that held a lot of promise but produced few results. However, the team's record at the end of the year doesn't mean their weren't great performances that of Steve "bedrock" Bedrosian who would go on to win the Cy Young Award two years after debuting with the Phillies in 1986. The next decade saw Tyler Green playing his part in an amazing season in 1993.  

The Phillies are currently 0-4 this season putting them on pace to meet most preseason predictions. The Phillies finished the spring exceeding most expectations compiling a record of 15-11-3 (18-11-3 if you include the exhibition games against Reading and the University of Tampa). All time, the Phillies are 18-18-0 on this day. I expect the Phillies to finish in the bottom half of the division but not last in the NL East by finishing the season with a 77-85 record. Let the rebuild begin!

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